Storytelling is… #7 The Spendlow Lectures Part 2 Being Skaldic
Storytelling is… #7 The Spendlow Lectures Part 2 Being Skaldic
You are a storyteller of great renown – it has been posited and it will be so
(If anyone can think of a way of describing my pontifications I would love to hear.)
There are proud moments though.
(You should strive to posit so, it may even be an expected role of the storyteller.)
Proud moments yes.
Odin was a giant.
He sought power.
He was Borrsson.
The All-father thing. It is all timeless and mixed up. This is the gods, they can be from whenever they wish.
One of the Vanir wasn’t even born when he turned up at the God-swap with the Aesir.
These are the things which I think in the dark of the night and these are the things I fit into my stories. Think of things for yourself, these are your things.
Those proud moments.
There on the tee vee is a pal of mine. He is telling the world of how his team of archaeologists have definitely recovered the bodies of Roman-age York-based gladiators. Next thing I know he is calling ‘hi’ across the street and I am going to him to thank him for a great presentation. They are hoping to find the arena so I commented that many Roman features were still around when the Vikings arrived; they commented on the roads, they will have utilised bathhouses and a temple as a palace. If there had been an arena they would have used it as their all-ting (circular government). He looked really excited at this and said when they find it the first thing he is going to do is look for Viking-age items.
Another archaeologist friend was very interested in my thoughts on Lindisfarne. I had picked up a tourist guide and saw it mention the 1500 Scottish Border Report which stated there was a large hidden natural harbour which could house a whole fleet as it prepares to invade. I pointed out that if it could hold ships then it could hold long ships and perhaps the Vikings hadn’t just raided the monastery they had set up camp there to do raids of the mainland. The next thing I know my friend has promoted a talk on a whole new look at the Vikings on Lindisfarne.
Proud moments yes, new lines of thinking too.
Adaptability is important. Places and events want storytellers. They have a theme or a period of time. You get some strange requests. So one needs to put stories and elements of stories together. A fitting set list.
The composite – the gathering of the information and the melding into one tale.
This can be a string of known tales but once you have researched the topic (within your own know how as well as in your sources) you may well have a collection of snippets and so. Folklore, history, characters. The most common way I weave these together is in an ‘It happened to me’ style. This works well in performance and allows one to ‘hide’ behind a persona. It is easier to act things out if you are a character.
You will need a fitting costume however.
Or at least a hat. Perhaps a few.
The sagas are bitty, the myths especially so. Partly due to being patched together from many sources and partly due to being frozen in time. I love a good index. Kevin Crossley-Holland comes to mind. His work on myths is a good source.
By working through all the references to a particular character or topic within the index you can piece together a fuller picture. Then you can see ways to tell. Stories leap out of your research and juxtapositioning. All new and always.
Vikings: We only have so much material and it is laid out in a certain way and we need to explore what we can do with it.
We can try and reach back to the teller of the time and try to gain their skills by studying thoughts of their motivations.
Let us look at their whole empire, the stories from it all are often hidden within the myths.
Let’s see what can be dug up.
I don’t sing. I don’t play an instrument (except the cave harp). I love to work with music. It changes everything. And with singers too. Melding my stories and prose poems in with their ballads etc.
In the Gods Bless Ya! show my stories set the scene for the songs of Alda Raven and I seek to fill in any gaps in the flow of narrative. I also perform her words (yes, I admit to the use of a script!). SigRun Viking Art & Design create the costumes and supply the models to be the goddesses, part of my job is to create a narrative to accompany them; to get the timing right and to direct their actions subtly.
Thus are stories dramatized.
We can take part together and play roles and allocate parts.
Re-enactment groups post up a story and say who would play which part? IE The priest was very angry about this and stormed off to the sea captain. The sea captain agreed a fee to ferry him and waved him aboard his ship bound for Normandy. You volunteer and you go along. Except for the odd word or two shouted from the field it is crowd scene acting with a narrator over the tannoy.
The ways the storyteller can be utilised, the roles expected, bring me to the idea of the skald.
I haven’t so much looked at the history of the Skald, as at the necessity of the Skald, by being one.
I have looked at skaldic verse with its beats and echoes and, of course, the kennings. It is believed that they were written in such a way you would not fully understand on the first listening, but then the Skald would tell the stories which are referred to in their poetry and then read the piece again. That way on the second listening the audience would understand.
As modern-day Skald to the Chieftain I have many roles, as we are seeking to echo Viking-age life as clearly as possible. I write praise poems for my chieftain and to mark occasions.
Practicality leads one towards storytelling and uses those skills as part of the needs of an occasion.
Leading parades with my chieftain. Opening festivals, markets and events. Collating other performers and introducing them along with course leaders etc. Acting as presenter at events and as entertainer at feasts.
Providing performance opportunities for members of courses and circles. Creating group dramas.
I find that circles draw in teenagers and young adults more than any other age which is very refreshing, they have seen the shows and want to experience more.
Getting others involved can be great fun. The walk by at opening ceremonies has caused great fun. As I talk of leather working classes a glamourous presentation of their produce parades back and forth in front of me. When I announced the timber has arrived for the new constructions two men with a plank hanging down between their legs groan their way across the arena. People clamour to take part with ideas of how to promote their activity. As I say, “Visitors are invited to take part in the Glima at their own risk,“ a huge wrestler whistles as he carries a ‘dead’ body.
The multi-national stories go down far better than I ever expected they would. I strip a saga down to a few dramatic sentences and then invite people of different nationalities or dialects to stand alongside me and translate one after the other. Great fun seeing them all acting it all out.
It is always an honour to be asked to take part in a ceremony; be it a naming day, a wedding, or an event blessing. I may accompany my chieftain’s activities with a relevant poem or tale. I might utilise the mead horn, statues, a mirror bowl, the chanter’s chair or the threads of the Norns.
One ancient tradition which must be respected is to do what the participants wish.
I am reminded of the words of Jane Harrison in Ancient Art and Ritual where she talks of the 1 2 3 of existence. The one being you. The two is you and the world and the three is: you perceiving the world, the world effecting you and you reacting to that. We are destined to perform ritual.
So, what is a Skald – imagine you are a chieftain – what do you want from me?
And so to my greatest powers; example and expectation. As simple as that, my work is inspiring and I have an expectation that you will be involved and develop.
You will grow and be
I am not an academic, I am not a reenactor, I not even a Viking if I am truthful; I am a storyteller. I seek to be true to the past I am part of and I seek to be very very good. I give you part of what I am and I ask you to be ready.
As we are drawing to the close of this section of the series I would remind of story points; you can’t do a story unless you have them. Slot them in a row in your mind and you are ready.
The next section of this series will be the feature on techniques. For groups and those intending to join one of my groups I would suggest the techniques section is looked upon as a hand out, a guide, to help empower you so you can help shape the sessions.
As for endings, look at some of ‘my’ endings. I lean towards throw away, I am not very strong on morals if you see what I mean and I find punch-line type endings take away from the believability.
As we draw to a close on the lecture and move on to the techniques section it is best to reiterate; I have always found that performance example inspires and encourages people.
To summarise my personal feelings, ‘Oh no I am going to have to learn all of this.’
Saying Thank You
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